Page images
PDF
EPUB

countries, Washington and Chatham. Neither's opinion was expressed in public; neither's was known to the other; but both, as we find from their familiar correspondence, concurred. "Reparation," says Chatham, "ought to be demanded in a solemn manner, and refused "by the town and magistracy of Boston, before such a "bill of pains and penalties can be called just." * And "Washington writes: "The conduct of the Boston people "could not justify the rigour of their (the Ministers') "measure, unless there had been a requisition of payment "and refusal of it." f

Even before the Boston Port Bill had yet passed the Upper House Lord North introduced another measure, the Massachusetts Government Bill. By that measure the Charter as granted to the province by King William was in some important particulars set aside. The Council, instead of being elected by the people, was henceforth, as in most of the other Colonies, to be appointed by the Crown. The judges, magistrates, and sheriffs might be nominated by the Governor, and in some cases also be removed by him, even without the consent or sanction of the Council. "How else," asked Lord North, "is the "Governor to execute any authority vested in him? At "present if he requires the aid of a magistrate he has "not the power of appointing any one who will, nor of "removing any one who will not, act; the Council alone "have that power, and the dependence of the Council "is now solely on the democratic part of the Constitution. "It appears that the civil magistracy has been for a "series of years uniformly inactive; and there must be "something radically wrong in that constitution in which "no magistrate for such a series of years has ever done "his duty in such a manner as to enforce obedience to "the laws." { Such considerations are by no means destitute of weight. But surely in the arguments for or against this Bill the scale much preponderates to the side of Opposition, — an Opposition not indeed effectual, but united and strong, resolute and eager. How rash the

* To Lord Shelburne, March 20. 1774. Correspondence, vol. iv. p. 337.

f To B. Fairfax, July 20. 1774. Works, vol. ii. p. 303. j Parl. Ilist. vol. xvii. p. 1192.

precedent at such a time of dealing so lightly with a Royal Charter! How far wiser had it been to bear any amount of inconvenience from the defects of the existing fabric, rather than attempt its reconstruction at the very moment when the storm was raging round it!

These two important Bills were not the only ones that passed this Session in single reference to the Colony of Massachusetts. It was imagined that no fair trial could be had within the limits of that province of any persons concerned in the late disturbances; it was therefore enacted that during the next three years the Governor might have the option of transferring any persons so accused to be tried in any other Colony, or even in Great Britain. There was likewise a Bill to regulate the government of Canada, or as it was termed the " province of Quebec," and to define its boundaries, which were enlarged in the direction of the back settlements, by including all the lands not subject to any previous grant nor comprised in any previous Charter. The Governor, General Carleton, being examined before the House of Commons, stated that the Protestants in the province were then not quite 400 in number, while the French inhabitants, all Roman Catholics, amounted to 150,000.* It was to the peace and good government of the latter that the Bill was mainly, and surely in strict justice, directed. Its provisions in no degree practically touched any of the dissatisfied Colonies. But since it authorized and sanctioned the Roman Catholic Faith, as held at that time by an immense majority of the people in Canada, it afforded on that account a topic of invective and complaint to the Protestant zealots of New England.

During the progress of all this legislation, levelled so directly at the town of Boston, the news that came from thence was by no means of a soothing kind. At the close of February another ship freighted with Teas (it was named the Fortune, and commanded by Captain Graham,) having anchored in Boston Harbour, the inhabitants with great deliberation proceeded to unload the tea-chests, and to cast their contents into the sea. Well might Lord North exclaim at the news: "Is this, Sir

* Tail. Hist. voLxvii . p. 1368.

"seeing their error? Is this, Sir, reforming? Is this "making restitution to the East India Company? Surely "no gentleman will after this urge anything in their "defence!"*

Large as was the number of Bills produced in this Session of Parliament, it was by no means solely on them that Lord North relied. He believed, — though erroneously, yet no doubt honestly and truly, — that these Bills would avert an appeal to arms, but he felt the necessity of being prepared for either alternative. With that view he recalled Governor Hutchinson from Boston, and sent in his place a veteran of tried conduct, and high in command of the troops, General Gage. Hutchinson on his arrival in England was admitted to an audience of His Majesty, and tended much by his representations to confirm the Government in the hopes which they had formed. General Gage in like manner before his departure assured the King that the Americans would be lions only so long as the English were lambs, f

It is indeed a matter of just regret, and deserving to be ranked among the main causes of the schism in our empire which so soon afterwards ensued, that there was then a general tendency at home to undervalue and contemn the people of the Colonies. They, and more especially the natives of New England, were often called by the name of Yankees, which had grown to be in some measure a term of reproach, although in its origin probably no more than the corruption by the native Indians of the words Engt.ish or Anglois. It must be owned that the public in England were not so much to be blamed for their unfavourable judgment, but rather such men as Hutchinson and Gage, who, having the best means of information, and being Americans by birth or kindred, might well be trusted and believed. To such an extent did these disparaging reflections proceed that a doubt was even uttered whether the Americans possessed the same natural courage as the English. In the course of the ensuing year a Minister of the Crown, the

* Debate in the House of Commons, April 21. 1774. t The King to Lord North, Feb. 4. and July 1. 1774. Appendix to this volume.

Earl of Sandwich, when speaking in the House of Lords, and Colonel Grant, an officer in the King's service, when speaking in the House of Commons, were so grossly imprudent and ill-judging as to refer to their countrymen over the Atlantic as arrant cowards.* Such words could not fail to sink deep in the minds of the Americans, especially of those who had borne arms. Just after the first blow had been struck Washington referred to them with a feeling of just resentment, though, as usual with him, in a tone of dignified forbearance. "This," says he, "may serve to convince Lord Sandwich and others of the "same sentiment that the Americans will fight for their "liberties and property, however pusillanimous in his "Lordship's eyes they may appear in other respects." f

Had the Boston Port Bill stood alone, unaccompanied by any other legislation, it seems possible that the Americans of the other Colonies seeing the wrong which Boston had committed, and acknowledging the claim to some compensation for it, might, though not wholly approving, yet have acquiesced. But the proposal and still more the passing of the next measure — the Massachusetts Government Bill — made them feel their own liberty in danger. If one Charter might be cancelled so might all; if the rights of any one Colony might hang suspended on the votes of an exasperated majority in England, could any other deem itself secure? Under these impressions they resolved at all hazards to make common cause with Massachusetts. The Royalists, now and henceforth called by their countrymen "the Tories," even in their strongholds, as at New York, found themselves outnumbered. The men hitherto most moderate and calm on the popular side, as Colonel Washington, could forbear no longer. They might feel themselves the more inspirited at finding their principles approved and their oppression acknowledged by a powerful party in Great Britain. Eloquent voices had been raised in their behalf. Burke upon a motion to repeal the Tea Duty (a motion certainly not well timed, and which accordingly numbered only fortynine supporters,) had made one of the most admired of

* Parl. Hist. vol. xviii. p. 226. and 446.
f Writings, vol. ii. v. 406

his speeches; the first reported by himself. Lord Chatham towards the close of the Session had twice spoken against the American policy of Ministers; and his lofty tones had reverberated over the Atlantic. And if among the .Americans there were any more eager or less scrupulous than the rest who already looked towards France as a future source of succour, they must have hailed as an event auspicious to them the death of Louis the Fifteenth. That monarch had expired at Versailles on the 10th of May, a victim to his own debaucheries. His grandson and successor, Louis the Sixteenth, was a prince of timid and irresolute temper, but of excellent intentions, and blameless in his private life. He had hastened to dismiss the profligate Court and no less profligate Council by which his grandsire had been governed; and although the Ministers whom he first selected might not be any more than himself men of high ability, at least they were not like the former ones debarred by ignominy at home from influence abroad. Henceforth it was plain that France would not be a powerless, nor probably an unconcerned, spectator of whatever pretensions might be started, or whatever conflicts might be waged, by foreign states.

Virginia was one of the earliest Colonies to stir in support of Boston. There the vanguard of the extreme popular party was headed as before by Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson; the latter of whom inditing his own Memoirs more than forty years afterwards has left a curious and authentic account of their proceedings at this time. "What we did," says he, "was with the help "of Rushworth, whom we rummaged over for the Re"volutionary precedents and forms of the Puritans of "that day." * Nor did they search in vain that ample storehouse of weapons against the Crown. Adopting one of its Revolutionary precedents, and altering only a few of its antiquated phrases, they drew up a Resolution that the 1st of June, on which day the Boston Port Bill was to come into effect, should be set apart for fasting, humiliation, and prayer, to implore the Divine interposition

* Memoirs and Correspondence of Jefferson, edited by Randolph, vol. i p. 6. ed. 1829.

« PreviousContinue »